Jun 30 – Today’s journey was an hour and a half bus ride through the mountains, as we left gray and misty Puyo behind. We rode through a town named Shell – named for the oil company. Now we are in the mountain town of Baños.
Baños means ‘bath’, and refers to the hot springs that have long been popular with tourists here. I think the sign below indicates the hot springs.
The full name of the town is Baños de Agua Santa, or Bath of the Holy Waters, but the signs just say Baños. In Western Hemisphere Spanish, baños also means bathroom, which makes it an odd name for a town, to our ears. (In Spain you ask directions to the toilet or WC or servicios – if you ask for the baños, you just get an odd look and a shrug. Why are you asking for a bathtub?)
Stepping off the bus, it felt like we’d been magically transported to Switzerland – crisp air, blue skies, and mountains all around. Here’s the view from our hotel window.
We even have a snow-topped volcano, Volcan Tungurahua.
We walked into town. Lots of street art here.
The downtown was packed on a Sunday afternoon, with locals and visitors crowding the sidewalks. Lots of backpackers and hostels and tour companies here.
There was a huge fruit and vegetable market.
Some mosaic wall art!
Jul 1 – This morning we took the bus up the mountain to visit Casa del Arbol – the Tree House at the top of the world.
The bus ride, in a very comfortable tourist bus, cost $1. (Note: the tour company in town would be happy to charge you $50. for the same ride.)
Casa del Arbol is on all the lists of things that one must do in Ecuador. The premise is simple – the little tree house is built precariously on the edge of a cliff, with swings attached. Swing out over the abyss for the thrill of your life!
Simple indeed, and unlike Disneyland, the adventure is entirely up to you. Once you’ve paid the $1. entrance fee to the gatekeeper, there is no evidence that anyone works here or watches the tourists in any way. You can do any crazy-ass thing you like on the swings, as many times as you wish.
Note that the single strap that you can attach (or not) across your lap would not do much to keep you from flying down the mountain if you overbalanced. However, we all took several turns, it was great fun, and we all lived to tell the tale. The feeling in the pit of your stomach when you are extended out over nothingness just can’t be beat.
This place also featured a self-service zip line, which was tame by comparison. You zipped down the hill, then walked your harness back for the next person to use.
Once your adrenaline is racing, you might also want to balance on a log and cross a pond. Some folks will do anything.
When we weren’t swinging or zipping, we walked through some beautiful gardens and enjoyed the mountain air.
Most fun we’ve ever had for a dollar!